A Few Things Along the Way
By George McAuliffe, President, Pinnacle Entertainment Group
Time really does fly! It’s hard to believe our company, Pinnacle Entertainment Group, is now in its 26th year, I’m in my 43rd in the industry and my partner, and son, Howard is in his 26th (actually 35th if you count his start at age 8 when he and his brothers were my “secret shoppers”). On his behalf and mine, a big thank you to Eddie, Ingrid, Barry, Matt and Key at RePlay for helping us celebrate a quarter-century (and counting) with the honor of a magazine cover. We also thank them for the opportunity to contribute a regular column to their great industry resource.
As you can imagine, we’ve learned a few things along the way. Looking at the beginning, I thought I was taking a temporary job as an arcade manager. That’s when I figured out that you shouldn’t get too wrapped up in your assumptions! I learned, repeatedly, what fun the fun business is and also how challenging it can be. I learned how to “look around corners” for the next attraction, feature, technology or whatever we can add to the offering to keep entertainment facilities relevant for changing audiences.
Above all, I learned that ordinary people can do great things. I’m thinking about some of the many colorful characters, brilliant entrepreneurs and kind, giving people who have built this industry and who, in subsequent generations, propel it forward. I’m often struck by how willing our people are to share their ideas, success and failures and to give back. Is it something about the fun business? About entrepreneurship? I ask because I see it across the subgroups in which we operate: bowling, cinema, restaurant, hotel resorts and the others. We all benefit from it…Howard and I certainly have.
They say you stand on the shoulders of those who come before you. When I look back, I think first of my brother Tom who saw the potential in the arcade industry in the early 1970s and enthusiastically joined the Time-Out chain. He took a chance on me –– I was young, liked to party, and the brain channels were not fully connected –– and he gave me a lifetime of opportunity. He was also a terrific leader and role model. By watching him, I learned that a manager’s job is to support his people (not the other way around), and also that our business constantly evolves. The trick is to embrace that change and get started on integrating it –– whatever “it” is –– into the business model.
Tico Bonomo may be the guy who “invented” the mall arcade when he founded Time-Out Family Amusement Centers in 1970. Tico grew up working Saturdays in his father’s candy factory in Coney Island, N.Y., considered the birthplace of the amusement scene in the U.S. After college, he saw that the then-new shopping malls functioned a lot like the boardwalk. He decided to try to put an arcade in front of that shopping mall foot traffic and Time-Out was born. Benefitting from the advancing technology in video games, the company grew. Tico and Tom built a great management team including two of my early bosses, Rich Long and John Denlinger. Rich and John taught me so much and allowed a young guy to make the mistakes needed to learn and improve.
In a career this long, there are just too many people to thank and too great a risk of leaving someone out, so I will leave it there. Well, not quite yet. I do want to thank my partner in life and business, Julie McAuliffe, for her role in our success and for helping me connect those brain channels I mentioned earlier. I also want to thank my sons Howard, George and Peter, daughters-in-law Reem Abeidoh (Howard) and Nicole Larson (Peter) and, of course, my grandson Sami. Talk about family fun! There’s just no way to express how fun it is to get to hang with you all.
Returning to business, we’ve only been able to survive and prosper by following the example of so many corporate leaders and colleagues, fellow operators and suppliers, business partners and alliances, competitors and clients. Seeing how they conduct themselves and approach their business (as I think about it, this means both the good and the bad), asking questions and listening to the answers, is a great way to grow and develop. We’ve had the bonus of being able to call many of those influencers’ friends –– the ultimate blessing!
George McAuliffe has helped hundreds of businesses large and small develop and execute arcades and FECs. He has personally operated family entertainment centers from 2,000 to 150,000 square feet as a corporate executive, entrepreneur and consultant. He is the owner, with his partner and son Howard, of Pinnacle Entertainment Group.
George lives on the Jersey Shore with his wife, Julie. They have three sons, two daughters-in-law and a grandson.